I’ll admit, I’ve been a little disinterested in the NBA for the past two weeks. Sure, the first few days of summer league can be exciting, but it’s honestly painful to watch those guys play basketball most of the time. We had a couple of interesting free agent signings in Isaiah Thomas going to the Nuggets and Jabari Parker coming home to the Bulls, but still, neither was a highly impactful move. And with free agency coming to a close and all major trade rumors dragging on without fruition, many of us were finally taking a break from the NBA to watch baseball, the World Cup, and for some, even a spot of golf.
But then, it happened. Early on July 18th, Kawhi Leonard was finally traded. Not to his coveted Lakers, the asset-loaded Sixers, or the savvy Celtics, but to the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors also received Danny Green, while the Spurs also received young big man Jakob Poeltl and a top-20 protected first round pick for next year. Toronto picked up steam as the favorite to land Kawhi over the last week, but when Kawhi trade rumors first started, Toronto was nowhere near the top of speculated candidates. But now they have him, and it’s time to see how this deal affects players, teams, and other things around the NBA.
#1 The Spurs
In my book, San Antonio would be a winner no matter who or what they traded Kawhi for, because they simply had to trade him. It was a done deal that he was leaving next year, so it’s much better for them to at least get something in return than to lose him for nothing.
Sure, I think there was a better deal out there for them. The Lakers probably offered a motherload along the lines of a pick, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart, but Poppovich would never gift Los Angeles with Kawhi. He’s spent his whole career expressing open disgust for the Lakers and their culture, and there is no way that Pop would want to finish his illustrious career by setting the Lakers up for a dynasty.
It was also suggested that the Sixers offered a package of Robert Covington, Dario Saric, and the 2021 unprotected first round pick. By the Spurs picking this Raptors deal instead it tells us that a) the Spurs definitely wanted an all-star or potential all-star player in return, b) that the Sixers refused to include Markelle Fultz in a trade, and c) that the Spurs do not think Dario Saric could ever be a borderline all-star.
As for Boston, the report was that the Spurs wanted to do Kawhi for Jayson Tatum straight up, so I don’t blame Danny Ainge if he slammed the phone down and swore off visiting San Antonio ever again as soon as he heard that. But the deal with the Raptors gives them a guy who can be a franchise guy in DeRozan who will keep them in playoff contention for the next 3 years, and allows themselves to end the horrible Kawhi drama that was ruining their reputation.
#2 The Raptors
Most agreed that this was a great trade by the Raptors for two main reasons. First, that upgrading from DeRozan to Kawhi makes the Raptors one of the favorites, along with Philly and Boston, to take the Eastern Conference crown with LeBron no longer in Cleveland. And the second reason is that even if Kawhi carries out his intentions and signs with the Lakers in 2019, the Raptors can then easily call it quits on this run of contention and blow it up.
They have had their best era in franchise history, but they unfortunately ran into LeBron at his apex and will have to deal with rising teams with more talent than them in the Sixers and Celtics. By trading DeRozan, they get off the extra three years of his max extension, and instead get one last run at a title before Kawhi leaves, they trade Lowry and their other veterans, and rebuild around their youth such as VanVleet, OG Annuoby, and Pascal Siakam.
The only way this could go completely downhill for the Raptors is if Kawhi sits out all season in order to protest his way into LA. This is not totally out of the realm of possibility, as it has already been rumored that Kawhi did not want to get traded to Toronto. However, I think Kawhi knows that he can’t afford to sit out two seasons in a row and still get the max contract that he wants in free agency. He’ll suck it up and give the fans up north one awesome season in an attempt for the Raptors to finally break through the wall and reach the Finals.
#3 Jakob Poeltl
He’s an awesome young center that plays with energy and accepts his role as finishing dunks and playing defense. He has the potential to become a Steven Adams or Clint Capela type, as he can shine in his best areas while his stars still handle most of the load. I think Poppovich will bring out the best in him, as hard-working guys from foreign countries always seem to be the best Spurs’ role players. If they can turn Tiago Splitter into a starter on one of the best title-winning teams in history, just imagine what they can do with big Jakob.
#4 The Lakers
It sounds weird to call the Lakers a winner even as they were in no way involved in the trade. It’s also weird considering what happened to Paul George, as he was traded to OKC then shocked everyone by staying with the Thunder rather than leaving for LA this summer. Doesn’t it hurt the Lakers’ chances that he’s in Toronto? Here’s the thing, I don’t think it does. It would’ve hurt the Lakers if he ended up in Philly or Boston, because adding Leonard to that mix would’ve made those two teams near locks to make the Finals and actually given them a legitimate shot at competing with the Warriors. Big cities plus playoff success equals Kawhi probably staying with the team. However, Toronto likely cannot beat the Warriors with Kawhi and are not even favorites to reach the Finals over Boston and maybe even Philly. And while Toronto is a cool city with a legitimate fanbase, it doesn’t have the superstar market of cities near the coast. Kawhi’s camp already said that he still wants to be a Laker, and I’m sure everything is going according to Magic and LeBron’s evil plan.
#1 Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi is obviously a loser here because his camp has made it clear that he only wants to be a Laker and that he will be one after 2019 free agency no matter what happens. There were rumors immediately following the trade that Kawhi may sit out the entire season due to his displeasure with Toronto, but those talks have cooled as the trade has settled in. There’s honestly no way that he’ll take another year off and kill his contract value around the league, but it seems clear that Kawhi, while happy to be out of San Antonio, wished he was headed somewhere else.
#2 DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan is getting that typical “underrated for so long that he becomes overrated treatment”. Everyone was low on him after his horrible series against the Cavs and were suggesting that Toronto might want to blow it up and trade him in order to rebuild. But after the firing of Coach Casey and the reports that DeRozan was promised that he would not be traded, it seemed like Toronto simply decided to keep their team together and shake things up with a new coach.
Then everything changed with this trade, and DeMar was not happy. He threw shade at the Raptors on his instagram story shortly before the trade went threw, expressing his displeasure over the broken promise. Now, everyone around the league is defending DeMar and using his case to prove that NBA players don’t have to be loyal to their franchises. This may cause one to think that DeRozan is a winner because the majority of the league is rooting for him, but I still qualify him as a loser for three reasons. First, that he is clearly unhappy with this move and liked his position in Toronto. Second, this turn of pro-Derozan vibes could swing back very quickly if DeRozan in any way underperforms, and he could receive a lot of hate. Last of all, DeRozan loved Toronto’s play style and loved playing alongside Lowry, so a change to the Spurs’ detailed system could throw him off, especially if he has to deal with it for three years.
#3 Danny Green
Poor Danny. He used to be one of the hottest young shooting guards in the NBA back in 2013 and 2014, where he was raining down threes all over LeBron and the hated Miami Heat. He even set the record for threes made in a Finals back in 2013 (Curry and Klay went onto smash that record in the following years, but still). However, after the 2015 season, Green’s shooting fell off a cliff and he dropped 42% to 33% from behind the arc, and he has yet to bring his three point shooting over 40% ever since. He went from an indispensable player on a championship team to a very average starter, and this trade is more proof of that. Green was simply thrown into the deal as a piece to simply sweeten the deal, and he ultimately didn’t really matter to either team. It’s sad to see how much a likeable hard-worker like Green has fallen in the NBA hierarchy.
#4 Spurs’ Culture
The Spurs built their entire reputation in the NBA on the idea of quiet, hard work rather than loud and star-driven talent. They had the perfect players for their culture, with a quiet but funny leaders in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. It looked like they had the perfect heir to that throne of leadership in Kawhi Leonard. He was a quiet guy who gave it all on the floor and seemed like he valued team success over his own. But as we have seen, that was clearly not the case. He’s now gone and left while brining the Spurs their worst drama in years. Not only that, but big Timmy retired, the Spurs moved on from Tony, and Poppovich and Ginobili are on their last legs. The Spurs were idolized by all other franchises, but it seems like that will no longer be the case.
A blessing for the NBA
This trade was a true blessing to NBA fans everywhere, as we finally get an end to the agonizingly-long Kawhi saga. I can’t wait to watch the new look Raptors or DeRozan on his San Antonio revenge tour, and I’m sure we’ll get more news from Kawhi’s camp as next year’s free agency approaches. (And for those who are interested in Carmelo being traded for Dennis Schroeder … call me back when Carmelo becomes anything other than the NBA’s least valuable player).